Monday, May 24, 2010


My friend Wendigo sometimes claims that I don't hold up my end of our continuing survey of vampire movies. We're supposed to alternate between films from our respective collections, but he owns more vampire films than I do. He playfully orders me to buy more, and when I saw Mill Creek Entertainment's new Undead:The Vampire Collection at the store I decided to comply. I already have most of the films in other Mill Creek sets, but Undead has at least four unique items that neither Wendigo nor I have seen before, staring with El Vampiro de la Autopista (literally "The Vampire of the Highway'), directed by Jose-Luis Madrid and available here in a worn widescreen copy of the English dub, which has a profoundly misleading title, since the title bloodsucker is neither particularly horrible nor sexy in the least. But for pure bad-movie entertainment value this film alone may have justified my $6.99 expenditure.

The film could well be called The Victims of the Highway, since we open with a couple pulling off the road into a motel. A motel demands a shower scene, and Madrid promptly delivers two, the woman first, then the man. And a shower scene in a motel demands a Psycho-homage attack, and here the director delivers...the naked man clutching his throat as if choking, thrashing about a bit, and collapsing:Psycho without the psycho, almost. But the woman sees something so shocking that the film freeze-frames and rolls the opening credits.

We next see her on a morgue slab with something like teeth marks dug into her neck. A police inspector and the coroner compare notes on the killing, the latest in a series.

Inspector: Apparently, he doesn't kill for any conventional motive. He must be some kind of sadist, I guess.

Coroner: But not a sadist as I know them. The circumstances which he prefers show a more unnatural instinct.

Inspector: What precisely do you mean by that term, doctor?

Coroner: That from the results of my autopsy I think the murderer is not a human.

The coroner is damned coy about what kind of not human the murderer is, and when he invited the inspector to his house for a drink in order to hear his theory, Wendigo and I began to wonder whether this humble doctor might be the Horrible Sexy Vampire. But at chez doctor he hands the detective a paperback copy of Dracula to read, as if that proved something. Despite the inspector's wise caveat that "Poppycock's not the right track," he gets caught up in the investigation of the long-abandoned castle of Baron Von Winninger, who died under mysterious circumstances following a murder spree in 1886. There have been similar sprees every 28 years since then, including the present crimewave. Despite an uncooperative caretaker, the investigators visit the castle and inspect its crypt. The baron's coffin is empty. That's because he's busy killing the cops, invisibly throttling the man in the car, then materializing to stab the inspector and strangle the coroner. "No one may violate the peace of the dead in this place," he says, "Pay with your life for it."

Wendigo says you'll be able to tell Waldemar Wohlfahrt as Baron Winninger apart from his more heroic lookalike by thinking of him as the guy with the John Pertwee look, or the one you can't see most of the time.

At approximately the 22-minute mark of the picture, all of our presumed heroes have been wiped off the board. That's pretty ballsy, or contemptuous toward the audience, and the audacity of it left us stunned for a moment. Fortunately, the film has reinforcements on reserve. The government sends a new inspector (Barta Barri) to Grenitz, which is apparently a snowy suburb of Stuttgart, while from London comes Count Adolf Oblensky, the Polish-born nearest male descendant of the Winningers, to claim the castle. I'd suppose that if you were named Adolf and had lived in Poland and Britain, you'd probably be ready to move, too. Oblensky is played by "Waldemar Wohlfahrt" (aka Val Davis) the same actor who plays the HSV, only with blonder hair and even worse taste in clothes -- and the baron has the excuse of having been dead since 1886.

Fashion tips: a Son of Frankenstein vest (above)does not make a good impression on guests. But Adolf Oblensky is an almost nonstop sartorial disaster, though Susan (below right) may not be in a position to judge.

Adolf and the new Inspector have a shared interest in getting to the bottom of the mystery of the castle. But while the Count is soon given cause to believe in the curse of the Winningers, the Inspector defiantly, petulantly resists any supernatural interpretation of the murders. We have our standard conflict of belief vs. skepticism, enacted by two idiots. The Inspector is Wendigo's favorite character, both for his self-evident fatuousness and the extraordinary dialogue the role imposes on a game English voice actor. Once Oblensky starts seeing the HSV, the Inspector dismisses him as a drunk. "I'm no alcoholic," he protests; "Everybody who drinks too much says that," the Inspector replies. If anything, this official is more obsessed with Oblensky than with catching the killer. Despite being convinced that he's innocent, he still has an army of cops stationed around the castle, so he can tell the Count's English girlfriend Susan: "If you feel you're in danger, just open a window and start screaming."

The Inspector also treats her to his diagnosis of her boyfriend, here transcribed verbatim:

I thought that our friend Count Oblensky in his extraordinary state, might relate with another personality and discard his real one and behave in what he thought the way the other one should behave. Similar cases have occurred.

How can you argue with that? You'd have to understand it first. If anything, Suzy (Susan Carvazal) had been doubting Adolf's mental state herself, but the Inspector's babbling makes her doubt her doubts. Anything sounds more credible than that. Her reaction both to him and to Adolf's ravings convinced Wendigo that she was probably the smartest person in the picture. She may have been the prettiest, too.

But we've been treating the Horrible Sexy Vampire like something you have a choice to believe in or not. Winninger has an agenda of his own, but it doesn't seem to include meeting any every-28-years quota of corpses. He has an unusual skill set. The invisibility does have some folkloric roots, Wendigo notes, as does the strangling. But Winninger also has issues. He's fulfilling some compulsion beside the need to drink blood (and no one mentions the victims being drained of blood). He never attacks a woman without first giving her a chance to strip, and after strangling one victim (after!) he strips her, the camera cutting away just as he's about to pull off her panties.

This hint at horrible sexuality is as close to the English title as the film gets.

But then we get a remorse angle, Winninger explaining to Oblensky that he, the HSV, can't kill Adolf because the count is his blood descendant. Adolf is thus in the lucky position to end poor Winninger's curse, as he explains in his second meeting with the Count, after he's killed more victims. And after encouraging Adolf to come up with some way to kill him, he promptly runs off and kills four more people. Fortunately, Adolf doesn't have to believe in Winninger's remorse in order to destroy him, but the baron did say that he'd be able to put up a fight first. That sets up the thrilling climax, the fulfillment of the promise made when we were introduced to the hero and his look-alike antagonist...who can become invisible. In other words, we get Waldemar Wohlfahrt pantomiming getting his ass kicked -- and he does a pretty good job, actually. He's at least a competent physical presence, even if his English voice doesn't get the idea. In one scene Adolf really gets drunk and staggers about the castle, but the English actor carries on in his slightly priggish voice as if the count had been a lifelong teetotaler.

We found ourselves anticipating a downer climax, anything from Adolf missing the dematerializing Winninger and staking Susan by accident, or the Inspector shooting someone by mistake, or Adolf turning into a vampire ... just because. The film even sets up a scary finale when Adolf mentions that Winninger's victims ought to be turning into vampires themselves about now. We seem clearly set up for something shocking while the camera lingers on Adolf and Susan filling their car with gas. But then it just ends -- stops might be a better word. Maybe there's more in the original European version, but to American audiences the irrelevance of the ending probably seems the most European thing about it.

El Vampiro is an artless film full of gaffes. Winninger's coffin is clearly labeled as such, except in one scene in which the lid clearly identifies the occupant as Baron von Fraumler. Susan is taking a bubble bath and rises from it, her arms covered with soap, when she hears a noise. When the HSV appears a moment later, she's completely rinsed off. In one of the closing shots from inside Adolf's car, a hand appears briefly behind the passenger seat as the cameraman braces himself ... or was it...?

Another mystery: Why is Daphne wearing Velma's clothes?

For Wendigo, though, The Horrible Sexy Vampire easily fits into the so-bad-it's-good category. He thinks the dubbed dialogue deserved an award for how strenuosuly its twisted syntax and logic strove to match the actors' lip movements. Winninger's abilities and limitations were also unique enough to make him interesting as a vampire even if Wohlfahrt did little to make him interesting as a character. The Euro-babes aren't exactly an A-list crew, but we appreciate the effort to get them out of their clothes, however baldly exploitative it all was. While it was disappointingly short on blood and blood drinking for a vampire film, it manages a respectable body count. But beyond the blood and boobs (mammarian or otherwise), this is a film Wendigo recommends unreservedly to anyone who knows how to enjoy a mad, bad movie.

This isn't a trailer, but miskavi has uploaded a short collection of clips to YouTube:

1 comment:

The Vicar of VHS said...

This one looks well worth the watch, if only to witness the "sartorial disasters" you briefly showcase here!

I haven't got out my Mill Creek sets in a while--something I need to get back to I think, as a roots-revisiting kind of exercise. Excellent consideration of an unknown flick. Despite your misgivings, it's definitely on my need-to-watch list now!